Ask a dietitian what their least favorite phrase about nutrition is and I bet that ‘clean eating’ is on the list. Clean eating has an infinite number of meanings depending on who you are and what your nutrition guidelines are. Some people choose not to consume meat, dairy, gluten, grains, soy, eggs, corn, or beans, among other foods. These choices might be for a whole slew of reasons including sensitivities, allergies, intolerances, religious preferences, environmental concerns, taste preferences, and scientific evidence. As a registered dietitian there is one thing I’m sure about: not one dietary pattern is right for every single person. I believe it takes trial and error, intuition, and luck to find the dietary pattern that works the best for each of us. So, instead of getting caught up in the hottest diet of the week, let’s take a different perspective.
First, let’s think of clean eating as a spectrum of choices instead of simply a yes or no, black or white kind of thing. Then, let’s define the quest for clean eating as choosing ‘foods with the least processing’ most of the time. If that were the case then the ‘cleanest’ foods would inherently be vegetables and fruits that come out of the earth, and hopefully, directly to us. There are very few types of diets out there that don’t agree that vegetables should at least make up the majority of our intake. Beyond that, clean eating would be an effort to remove any steps possible before the food gets to your plate. So, what are some good rules of thumb for choosing a ‘lesser processed’ food?
Here are my favorites:
- Nature Valley Oat Bar –> Whole Nuts
- White Rice –> Quinoa or Brown Rice
- Margarine or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” –> Grass-Fed Butter or Avocado Spread
- Eggs and Toast –> Sweet Potato topped with an Egg
- Liquid Eggs –> Whole Eggs
- Enriched Wheat Pasta –> Quinoa or Brown Rice Pasta –> Spaghetti Squash or Zucchini Noodles (even better)
- Sweetened fat-free Greek Yogurt –> Plain Full-Fat Yogurt with Berries
- Dried Fruit –> Whole Fresh Fruit or Frozen Fruit
- Corn Tacos –> Lettuce Wrap Tacos
- Sausages/Processed Meats/Pre-Made Burgers –> Grilled, Baked or Roasted Grass-Fed Meats, Chicken, or Fish
- Refined Sugar –> Coconut Sugar, Agave, or Dates
- Syrup –> Berries
- Bread Crumbs –> Ground Flax or Almond Meal
- Instant Oatmeal –> Steel-Cut Oats or Quinoa
- Lasagna Noodles –> Eggplant Slices
These were 15 simple ways you can get started swapping out processed foods, for a more nutrient-dense, whole-food counterpart. If you have any questions, or a clean eating swap idea of your own, share below!